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2011 Nissan Juke Review - VIDEO ENHANCED

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SEE ALSO: Nissan Buyers Guide

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Detroit Bureau
The Auto Channel

“These seats are comfy, much more comfortable than those in our Lexus (RX300)” said the petite, boomeresque woman inspecting our black 2011 Nissan Juke SV as we awaited the ferry between Vancouver and Landsdale on the sun coast of British Columbia. The ferry dock was transformed into a car clinic. Hundreds of vehicles awaiting transport provided an audience of interested observers to our baker’s dozen 2011 Nissan Jukes. Many examined seats and instruments, goggled at the frogish headlights, or contemplated the number of bags of golf clubs that could fit under the hatch (at least four sans carts, or three passengers and three bags is our guess.) Despite what can be charitably called quirky design, the Juke was warmly received.

Juke has been available in Europe and Asia where its size of vehicle, the B class, is a staple for a couple of months. In the US it stands alone as the only small crossover SUV and invites cross shopping to Mini Cooper’s 2011 Countryman or current Clubman, Toyota RAV4, Mazda3, and Suzuki SX-4 in size and capacity while, in many ways, exceeding their capability with a powerful, though small and fuel efficient, turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and available all-wheel drive. Juke’s arrival plus the impending all-electric Leaf also pushes Nissan’s mix of automobiles to an astonishing variety of sporty vehicles.

Juke is a visually unique vehicle in a growing segment and aimed square at 18-34 year old men and the 25-29ers who actually have jobs and might cash in on a new and “totally sick” car. Styled by Nissan’s London-based Nissan Design Europe (NDE) it resembles nothing else and might be mistaken for a mashup muxed of Subaru WRX headlamps, any recent Mazda’s husky fenders, and a Volvo wagon’s L-shaped tail lamps.

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In person Juke’s looks far exceed any photo. Traveling in formation on our test drive between Vancouver B.C and Egmont (near Skookumchuk Narrows Provincial Park), the tail looks porpoise-sleek with sculpted shoulders and and those jewel tail lamps are thankfully devoid of harsh LED dots. Side on, crisply pulled fenders plump up the cabin without going all Pillsbury dough boy soft. In front they’re topped by light saber turn signal lamps. A reverse wedge taper steals a few inches of headroom from rear passengers, but makes the car sporty instead of toasterish. By keeping the fenders wrapped tight to the tire, unusual for anything promoting its SUV-ness regardless of using crossover in its name, , sportiness is maintained and emphasized. That’s good because this CUV is positioned as a muscular urban street fighter, not a posh pastoral buckboard.

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Of course the nose and its anime and manga inspired pancake headlamps dominate the front view. Thankfully the grille is rendered in a matte black that pulls the nose low and connects those glittering eyes. Gazing from conventional height rather than a photographers’ preferred toddler elevation viewpoint, there is more harmony than chaos. Well, for most of us.

Under the skin you’ll find a modern direct-injected 1.6-liter turbocharger equipped engine producing a stout 188 horsepower and 177 pounds feet of torque. As Juke weighs in at about 3,000 pounds, that’s enough oomph to scramble to the front of the pack. Behind that single engine for North America (Europe gets three including a diesel, see Henny Hemmes' First Drive Review) are your choice of a 6-speed manual transmission that makes the front wheel drive models it exclusively fits a fun car to drive swiftly, or a very capable CVT that can be shifted to simulate gears and more than a hint of sportiness. The CVT works credibly well and beats the gears off a manual once you’re mired mirror deep in urban traffic. We didn’t have much traffic-free time to scoff the law and grind years off the tires, yet we tried drove both systems, CVT and 6-speed, and the package is good. The TGDI engine best suits enthusiast drivers and in the FWD/manual transmission configuration; the 6-speed is not offered with AWD. Pushed, it renders gently increasing understeer as your enthusiasm increases the weight of your right foot.

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Connecting the 17” wheels and tires to the ground is an optional torque vectoring all-wheel drive system. It’s light weight, only 64 pounds, and a feature you’d associate with more pricey vehicles like BMW and Range Rover. Torque vectoring can move power among the wheels as needed for slippery conditions or spirited driving. For instance when scooting around a corner you really want the inside front wheel to pull and the outside rear tire to push a bit and torque vectoring can do this, making you an instantly brilliant driver. Or at least better. We had no dirt, rain, nor snow to test this system, yet found the overall combination of CVT and AWD quite sporting in its intent, particularly when manually shifted through its simulated gearset. And those shifts are close to instantaneous.

Click PLAY to watch Nissan Juke AWD video

Where you live is where the money was spent. Well, in the design anyway as there’s no way to make plastic surfaces as desirable as natural leather, real wood, burnished aluminum or other expensive finishes. Regardless the model you choose, the S 6-speed manual FWD starting at $18,960, SV CVT AWD at $22,260, or SL CVT AWD at $24,550, interior design is similar.

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Designers credit motorcycles for the interior theme that’s evident in the cafe racer tank-shaped center console with bulbous sides, and the twin instrument clusters centered ahead of the driver. The center stack of entertainment and climate controls is, depending on your chosen model, enviably novel. For SV and SL customers Bosch supplies a navigation system with 90% of the glitter for one-third the price. Its an option for SV and standard on SL. You get SD software upgrades, USB and CD audio input, traffic and easy-to-enter routing, voice announcements and a touch screen with selectable points of interest. Those POIs just don’t have golden arches or corporate logos.

All models acknowledge technology with a sure-to-be-copied I-CON integrated control center stack. It changes button colors and functions depending on your selection of Climate control or D-Mode. D-mode offers three throttle transmission (CVT only), and electric power steering settings: Normal, Sport and Eco. It also offers a boost gauge and even a G-force meter which is very cool and ultimately not too useful. Every S has an iPod connection as well as Bluetooth phone interface, driver’s one-touch up/down window; SV models add a power glass moonroof and handsfree ignition with push button start, auto temperature control, XM satellite radio, leather wrapped steering wheel and that nav package with a Rockford Fosgate sound system. SL’s gain a backup camera for the navigation system, an upgraded Rockford Fosgate stereo, more leather and heated front seats, in other words, every option available. All have six air bags and dynamic vehicle control (and did you know that Nissan has had accelerator brake override for years?).

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Juke offers generous bang for the buck and customizers will go nuts over colorful center consoles (LA Choppers, anyone?) and billet grilles. The random crowds on our Vancouver ferry voyages all seemed interested, many very interested despite the polarizing front face and its google eyes. The cars we drove, pre-production versions, were tight, well assembled and we saw no flaws.
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The TGDI engine, the wave of the future for Nissan and every manufacturer, ain’t no Hemi or Boss 302 but delivers plenty of grunt for its size along with mid-20 to low-30 MPG. Trunk capacity varies between 10.5 cubic feet or 35.9 once the rear seat is folded. Juke hits all the highs and makes all the plays; it really can juke through the known successful player lined up against it.